Saturday 10 November 2012

I Followed That Horse Off A Cliff

A study by Knox & Inkster (1968) revealed something interesting about people at the racetrack. Just after placing a bet they were much more confident of their horses' chance of winning than immediately before the wager. What is intriguing is that nothing about the horses' chances had changed: it was the same horse, the same course, the same opposition. What had changed was that the bettor considered his likelihood of
winning had greatly improved with that ticket in hand. 

But why?

Psychologists consider this to be an effect of social influence. By living in a social world where our behaviour is often questioned we are brought up with a need to appear consistent. In essence, when we make a choice we stick to it doggedly and ultimately displaying commitment to the task. But in doing so we often convince ourselves that we have made the right choice even when at times this may seem quite illogical.

Psychologists have long known about the power of the consistency principle to direct human action as a central motivator of behaviour. In fact consistency is generally associate with intelligence and good character - it also makes for an easier life in that we are not contemplating a myriad of choices in daily life. In fact, to behave in an inconsistent manner may be seen as an undesirable character trait: two faced, irrational or even categorized as mentally ill.

However, there are two sides to this coin.

Does a commitment to consistency make you do things that you wouldn't ordinarily do? There is little doubt it does! In fact, such is the power of social influence it often causes us to act in ways which are contrary to our best interests. We become habitually consistent - to the point it is unconscious.

But how can we relate this psychological research to everyday gambling? I have noted a couple of interesting points that people quote to the extent they have become a cliche. And they afford an intriguing insight to this subject matter. Many people have a favourite horse, trainer, jockey, type of bet, betting system - you name it - because it is part of your commitment to consistency. But now consider this. How many times have you heard someone say: 'I followed that horse off a cliff'. Why did they do that? Is it because you once made a commitment by backing it before? How many times have you battled with yourself  'questioning' whether you should 'give it one more chance?' You probably lost out to the quiet power of social influence - the terrible twins: consistency and commitment.

It is the same with people chasing losses. Consciously or unconsciously - mainly the latter - you have made a commitment to myself to make money that day - most certainly not to lose! Something is pushing your buttons to remain consistent (even if it costs you more and more). Have you ever noticed how a small loss - which on the grand scale of things is insignificant - can get you completely stressed out. I would suggest it is more to do with the internal disharmony of thinking 'What the hell was I doing?' rather than the money itself.

We are all victims of the consistency principle in everyday life. Why does the car salesman say: 'Would you buy the car right now if the price was right?'. He is trying to control that commitment - and by doing so is halfway to a sale.

I have only pointed a to a few aspects of how consistency and commitment can play a part in your gambling. I am sure with this new awareness you will be able to note how its significance has an impact on you and how you may be able to change this for the better - although it will be more difficult than you think. It is surprising how these things can slip under your betting radar. It pays to be aware of their influence.

As a final illustration of the power of social influence - consistency and commitment - I have one final piece of research which is quite humorous in its way but clearly identifies the problems at hand.

In 1966 Freeman and Fraser published an astonishing set of data.

A researcher posing as a volunteer worker had gone door to door in a residential California neighbourhood making an absurd request to homeowners. They were asked if a public-service billboard could be placed on their front lawns. They were even shown photographs of what it would look like where the view of an attractive house was almost completely obscured by a very large, poorly lettered sign reading: DRIVE CAREFULLY.

Although the request was normally and understandably refused by the great majority (17% complied), one particular group reacted favourably!

In fact, over 75% of them offered the use of their front lawn.


The reason for their startling compliance had to do with something that had happened two weeks earlier: they had made the small commitment to driver safety. A different volunteer had come to their doors and asked them to display a little three-inch square sign that read BE A SAFE DRIVER. It seemed such a small request that nearly all of them agreed. However, the effects of that request was enormous.

How does consistency and commitment affect your betting?